Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-D), Chair of House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, released the following statement after a hearing regarding VA’s plan to care for veterans and communities battling both viral and environmental catastrophes.
“The need for a well-coordinated response to a disaster is not lost on any of us. During this pandemic, VA has done a commendable job navigating new relationships with state governments, tribes, FEMA, and HHS, to help address critical public health needs” said Congresswoman Brownley. “It is essential, as the nation enters the back half of this wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, that VA use this time to prepare and inform veterans, staff, and community partners exactly how it will be able to serve in the event of multiple emergencies, including seasonal hazards and natural disasters.”
“Thank you Chairwoman Brownley for continuing the Committee’s work virtually and holding a hearing on the unprecedented challenge of responding to natural disasters in the midst of a global pandemic,” said House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano. “The COVID-19 pandemic requires a complete reassessment and re-thinking of VA’s emergency preparedness. It’s not enough to have a pandemic plan and a disaster plan. It’s clear that we need to have a comprehensive strategy in 2020, and I am troubled that VA may already be behind.”
VA’s emergency preparedness responsibilities, often referred to as VA’s Fourth Mission, are to ensure the continued delivery of VA health care and programs, and ‒ at the discretion of the Secretary or Medical Facility Directors ‒ provide services and supplies to civilians in the event of an emergency.
- As a partner in the National Disaster Medical System, VA coordinates medical resources and shares staff and supplies with local health providers during public health emergencies.
- VA coordinates with other Federal agencies, as part of the National Response Framework (NRF) (PL 93-288, as amended), to disasters.
- If necessary, VA can offer direct patient care to assist communities overwhelmed by large numbers of patients.
- In 2002, Congress mandated VA maintain certain emergency management capabilities such as establishing Medical Emergency Preparedness Centers to conduct research and offer biohazard threat training to other agencies. One of those centers, the Veterans Emergency Management Evaluation Center, is based out of the Greater Los Angeles VA.
- Congress also required VA establish the Emergency Cache Program.
- The Fourth Mission has no dedicated program office and is fulfilled in several as-needed ways throughout the department.